Green tourism is a popular buzzword in the travel industry, and everyone is getting on board in one way or another. Every hotel boasts evidence of some sort of environmental conscience, but many have been accused of “greenwashing,” meaning that they are only paying lip service to the public interest in environmental sustainability.
Today, I had the opportunity to tour some of the authentically environmentally sustainable properties in Wellington, New Zealand, and to speak with the city’s forward-thinking mayor, Cynthia Wade Brown, who joined our small contingency of members of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) at the local zoo to tell us more about the green aspects and strategies of Wellington, which is New Zealand’s capital.
Ms. Brown is famously known to have cycled to Wellington airport to meet Hillary Clinton, an incident she laughingly referred to as “one of the top ten cycling events in the US.”
The following are some of the facts we learned about the environmental strategy Wellington has in place.
Wellington has a bus system that goes from the airport. The cost varies by distance, and day passes can be purchased, and there is huge community support for public transport.
There are 365 kilometers of walkway in the city that ranks fifth in the world on the Mercer Eco City Index. The one person/one car concept is a minority one here. Wellington offers some modest grants to those that want to transition to more sustainable energy systems.
Twenty-six percent of people walk to work, and there are a lot of hybrid cars in the taxi fleets. The Qualmark system for environmental assessment is in place with a graded system. There are wind farms to the west of the city that generate a great deal of electricity, and they have been planned to be out of the way of the flight paths of birds, thus not disrupting the ecology.
The zoo was the first organization to attain the standard of sustainability, and a ten year restructuring plan is now underway to continue this. They have won many awards for conservation and sustainability and aim to develop creative digital industries to contribute to a low carbon, “weightless” economy.
A couple of hotels have paid a great deal of attention to being environmentally sustainable in numerous ways. The Youth Hostel Association
(YHA) is a budget-conscious youth hostel, and Ohtel is more upmarket and located in one of the city’s prime waterfront areas.
The Youth Hostel Association (YHA )Youth Hotel has 320 beds and is a part of Hostelling International. Sixty students come through each year and are shown responsible tourism practices. The students then design a sustainable program for a property and come back with a case study. The best one is rewarded by YHA, a not for profit charitable organization that does 87,000 beds a year.
A feature is a guest laundry room. The washers are front-loading that saves 40 liters of water per wash. The detergent is dispensed automatically – good, because they can use the biodegradable type and control the amounts. There is no wastage from small packets also. It’s on the top or 6th floor for a reason. First of all, everyone gets to enjoy the view of the waterfront, and also dryers can be vented upwards and not at street level. Many backpackers huddle along the window area to enjoy the free Wifi the city offers just outside.
The cost is $29.00 a room per night for a 6 bedroom with a shared bathroom. A 6 bedroom with ensuite facilities is $33.00, and 4 bedrooms are the same price. Private rooms, both double and twin, with shared bathrooms are $85.00 per room per night. Seven premium double ensuite rooms are $120 per night.
There are over 250 sustainable features in the building – thermal lined curtains; most windows are double glazed to retain heat; heating is on the ceiling, which doesn’t take space and is good to direct down as heat rises; heating is switched off in the summer months, it’s a very warm building; and they try to limit the possibility of bedbugs by using mattresses without flaps and lips, for example. Recycling bins are on each floor including disposal of batteries, and they are sent to Interwaste.
The clothing that is left, is given to local charities. There is one rubbish bin in each room and the housekeeping staff actually separates it out for recycling afterwards. All the paint is water-based and fluorescent tubes are recycled also. All of the taps are aerated, which uses less water, and the shower heads are flowing less than ten liters of water per minute.
They hit the line between being environmentally sustainable and being a five-star hostel. They are as environmentally conscious as possible while giving guests a good experience.
The first floor is all common, with kitchen, lounge and seating spaces. There is also a Grapevine, or area where people can leave notices between each other, or tips or anything at all. The area is bright and cheerful with a friendly feel.
All of the lights in the washrooms are on motion sensors. The library has information to help people become educated about being a conscientious traveler.
A new heat pump hot water system will soon be installed on the roof. It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent. It will save 20 tons of emissions per year. Every piece of rubbish that leaves the building is weighed and monitored. Five hundred school groups a year come to stay, in order to continue the education with sustainability briefings. They also plant 1,400 trees per year at the zoo.
Ohtel on Oriental Parade was designed and built by Alan Blundell. There are ten rooms that run a full recycling system. Amenities are in cornstarch refillable bottles, and mid-century furniture is used. Guests receive flip flops and note pads as amenities. Prices range from $265 to $565, depending on the time of year. They keep it very intimate, with only three main people there as the hosts. It is right across from the harbor in a beautiful area, so people select it not necessarily for its sustainability features.
The city supports innovations that can protect the economy against rapidly-rising energy costs, and wind power and developing tidal technology are a part of renewable energy strategies. After touring a few of these facilities and witnessing their commitment to environmental sustainability, I could see that these efforts were quite authentic, and there is tremendous interest in protecting the city and planet for healthy use far into the future.
The organization’s 56th annual convention is being held in Wellington, New Zealand. For more information, go to: www.wellington.govt.nz .